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Media perils and liability insurance 101

by Pat McNees, updated 6-12-19

First of all, freelance editors and writers are often sent boilerplate contracts that include clauses requiring liability insurance--which might make sense if you are rebuilding a wing of a building, but rarely make sense for a writer and certainly not for an editor. My advice (gained from others' experiences): Cross out that clause and tell the client that it isn't relevant because (if true) you don’t have employees, work onsite, travel on behalf of the client, see clients in your home office, operate heavy equipment, endanger the general welfare, and so forth. (H/T to Ruth E. Thaler-Carter for the wording.) If you raise an objection based on common sense, the client is likely to tell you just to strike the clause. If they don't and the fee is low, it probably won't make financial sense to sign the contract, or at least I would not do so. See also what Will MacPheat reports, in the Comments section.

Meanwhile, here's the best round up of information I have come up with for if you DO find yourself in a situation where you need to buy the insurance. Media perils liability insurance (or publishers liability insurance) may provide you with protection for such traditional claims as copyright infringement; libel; defamation, plagiarism; invasion or privacy or publicity or infringement of privacy or publicity rights; misappropriation of trademark, title, or slogan; defamation; misappropriation of property rights; personal injury; contextual errors and omissions.
What is covered depends on your policy so if there is any chance of your being vulnerable to a lawsuit, study your threats and options. You are protecting mainly against lawsuits, and I am no lawyer, so I report only on what I have learned over the years. I cannot recommend a particular insurance firm or broker, but just finding one is not easy so I list a few others have recommended. If you don't need the basics explained, scroll down to the section on Where to find liability insurance for authors and indie publishers

Be careful what you agree to in publishing contract

Authors: To begin with, be careful what you agree to in a contract:. Many authors routinely strike out or modify the part of any contract that holds the client or publisher blameless for any suits related to a particular story. Clearly it makes no financial sense for writers to agree to indemnify and hold blameless the client or publisher. Some publishers' contracts include indemnification clauses that hold the publication blameless and assign the burden of liability to the writer (even though editors may change the content) and I can see that they might want to pressure the writer to be careful what they write. But even for a nuisance lawsuit, legal costs can be substantial. Ask that such a clause, or any indemnification clause, be struck from the contract, or change the wording so that the writer is liable for content only "as submitted or approved by the writer," as one health writer suggests (so you aren't liable for sentences inserted by the editor) and only for the amount the publisher has paid you (at a maximum). See also the language suggested in the following important position paper (which probably needs updating but explains the principles:
How to Deal with Warranty and Indemnification Clauses (Writers & Editors site)
Contract terms (especially but not only in book publishing) '

Media perils and publishers liability insurance, broadly

What Every Publisher Should Know About Publisher's Liability Insurance (attorneys Lloyd J. Jassin and Steven C. Schechter, CopyLaw)
Media Liability Insurance (Authors Guild) Three main causes of legal action against writers are defamation, public disclosure of private facts, and misappropriation of name or likeness. The AG recommends getting signed releases from named people or entities. It also has a group plan for Media Liability Insurance (WriteInsure) through Axis Pro, a leading provider (see below) of such insurance. ou can download a PDF of FAQs about the WriteInsure program through the Guild. (PDF)
I am a freelance journalist. Do I need to buy liability insurance? (Annalyn Kurtz, Columbia Journalism Review, 11-13-17) "Do not make the mistake of buying a basic general liability policy online, without considering some intricacies of media law." Do read this important article.
Liability Insurance — Nyet (Rich Adin, Business of Editing, An American Editor, 5-22-13). When a client insists that a freelance editor have errors and omissions insurance, what does the editor do? Explain why it makes no sense for editors.
Get Covered: Media Insurance for Writers (Tara Lynne Groth, Women on Writing, Nov. 2010)
Media perils insurance protects against lawsuits over libel, copyright infringement (Jennie Phipps, What Freelance Success Says, 5-19-11)

Where to find liability insurance for authors and indie publishers

• Authors Guild and ASJA, among other organizations. Axis Pro offers four levels of coverage through WriteInsure, ranging from $100,000 per claim (with an aggregate payment limit of $300,000) to $1,000,000 per claim (with an aggregate payment limit of $1,000,000). The program covers legal expenses incurred in defending a claim and any monetary damages or settlements you may be required to pay. The "self-insured retention" (similar to a deductible) ranges from $2,500 to $5,000, depending on the amount of coverage you purchase. See WriteInsure's Frequently Asked Questions (PDF, via Authors Guild).
Media Liability Insurance (Authors Guild). The Guild has an agreement with AxisPro to offer its members professional liability insurance (through the insurance brokerage firm, John Buttine, Inc.). Download the FAQ for more details and see application form for Axis Pro's WriteInsure liability policy, for three covered activities: freelance writing (including commentary on third party websites and blogs), book authorship, and/or your own blog.
SPJ offers access to insurance and financial services through consultants Harry W. Riley III and David N. Brown. Also offers life insurance through MetLife.
Publiability. Mike Mansell (Granite Insurance Brokers) specializing in media liability insurance for publishers since 1977
• Affordable media liability insurance is available for members of the National Federation of Press Women (through Walterry Insurance Brokers). Walterry offers media insurance for several types of media (click on "media insurance").
AxisPro's Loss Prevention Guide (PDF -- this excellent booklet provides broadbased basic info on defamation, defamation, invasion of privacy (more complex than you might expect), trademark infringement, and copyright infringement).
MusicPro Insurance (for instruments and computer equipment)

Comment below if anything useful is missing.

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